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A Geodesic Dome is a particular type of structure shaped like a part of a sphere or a ball. An American engineer called Richard Buckminster Fuller in the 1940's invented the geodesic dome.

He was the first in his family for more than a century to fail to graduate from Harvard University. He had no formal technical training but whilst in the Navy in the Second World War and afterwards in the construction industry he taught himself mechanical and structural knowledge.

Whilst in the Naval Academy, he began his 'theoretical conceptioning'. This included a proposal for the 'flying jet-stilts porpoise' transport that was later published in 1932.

After leaving the military in 1922 he founded the 'Stockade Building System', which turned out to be a financial failure. It led to his personal bankruptcy.

Fuller's four year old daughter died in 1922. He felt that the death was due to inadequate housing conditions. He set himself the goal of finding solutions to universal problems such as poor housing conditions.

In 1927 he founded the 4-D Company in New York. He used the company in order to develop his design concepts. Fuller's ambition was to create a 'design science' that would be able to create the best solutions to problems with minimal consumption of energy and materials.

One of his most famous concepts apart from the geodesic dome was a teardrop car, which he named the 'Dymaxion'. The name was derived from 'dynamic' and 'maximum efficiency'. The design was based upon the Modern Movement concept of getting the most efficient and practical solutions from the least amount of materials.

As well as the Dymaxion Car Fuller also developed the first and the first mass produced, prefabricated plastic and duralumin house called the Witchita House. The company received 38,000 orders after the press launch, but Fuller was not prepared to start production until he was completely happy with the design. His financiers became frustrated and with all the delays the project was finally shelved.

Fuller became famous for creating the geodesic dome of 1949. This structure of the domes comprise of a complex network of triangles that form a roughly spherical surface. In order to create a shape, which is very close to looking like a true sphere the network of triangles have to become very complex.

The image below shows a geodesic dome, created by Buckminster Fuller.

The geodesic system consists of dividing a sphere into equal triangles so that the surface structure of a dome could be more easily made.
The similarity of the triangles makes the domes easier to construct and benefits by being structurally strong. The overall strength is distributed evenly. Fuller insisted upon the minimal use of materials. Therefore the construction of the domes made them lightweight, transportable and easily assembled.

If you think about eggshell, it is a very weak material but when arranged in the shape of an egg it becomes very strong. If you compare the egg to a matchbox, you will notice that the matchbox is made of thicker material. It is in the form of a cube, which distorts and bends far more easily than a dome or spherical shape.

The word geodesic comes from a Latin word meaning 'earth dividing'.
Buckminster Fuller invented the Geodesic Dome in the late 1940s to demonstrate some ideas he had about housing and 'energetic-synergetic geometry' (two types of structures or geometry working together to create a new stronger structure), which he had developed during the Second World War.

The Development of the Geodesic Dome

The invention of the geodesic dome was a solution to the pressing housing problem at the time.
Richard Buckminster Fuller examined all sorts of man-made and natural structures.
He was particularly interested in things that were made up of many smaller but similar parts, each relying on the other to make a whole.

Fuller examined as part of his research, fishing nets, beehives and many other examples of what he called networks. Fuller used new materials such as the ones used to make aeroplanes to build a new a type of building that no one had ever seen before. This was the geodesic dome.

The geodesic dome has a high strength to weight ratio because it is made of lightweight materials but is made in such a way that the stress is evenly distributed to all members in the structure. The design offered a way of producing ecologically efficient housing for the mass market. Geodesics Inc. was set up in 1949 to develop the concept.

Richard Buckminster Fuller designed and made a building with one of the largest spans in the world. This means that it has no columns or wall supports apart from the outside wall is the geodesic dome. It had a clear span of 384 feet. The domes were so large that the original intentions were for them to be positioned by Zeppelin but on most occasions they were set down by helicopter.
The St. Louis project nearly spanned a thousand metre.

The ambitious Geodesic Dome City, 1968

Richard Buckminster Fuller had an ambitious idea to place a geodesic dome two miles in diameter and one mile high at its centre over New York City (image above). The most important reason for the dome as far as he was concerned was that it would alter the weather over the city.

The dome would be enormous and inside the dome would be warmer that outside.
It would never rain or snow.

Fuller was the first person to coin the phrase 'Spaceship Earth'. He strongly believed that the creative abilities of mankind was unlimited and that the use and development of technology and design-led solutions would create a positive future.

The image of the geodesic dome is as futuristic a design in our modern society as it was when Fuller first created it. The concept of the geodesic dome is used in films and computer games today.


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